Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Religious War is Not So Bad: Modern Defenses of the Crusades

I was flipping through the TV yesterday and hit upon EWTN ON LOCATION - RETHINKING HOLY WARS: THE CRUSADES AND CATHOLIC DEVOTION IN THE MIDDLE AGES. It featured a lecture by Dr. Thomas F. Madden, of Saint Louis University, on "Rethinking Holy War: The Crusades and Catholic Devotion in the Middle Ages" delivered at the Catholic Vision of History Conference at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia. The full lecture is available in audio and visual format through iTunes University.

He also said that EWTN was producing a new documentary on the Crusades.

Dr. Madden appeared on NPR's On Point with Tom Ashbrook in September 2001, but I have not heard that program.

In the lecture, Dr. Madden asserts that the Crusades were a legitimate response to Muslim aggression and oppression of Christians in the lands the Muslims ruled.

His real focus, however, is to trace current Euro-American distaste for the Crusades to Protestant bigotry and Enlightenment animus to religion.

I've reviewed previously a book by Crusader revisionist Jonathan Riley-Smith. I think there are at least two important concerns for North American Muslims:

1. How are we going to end war in our time when people are busy glorifying and justifying past wars? I've just finished listening to David C Swanson's War is a Lie, and I hope to write a more extensive review. In that book, he spends a great deal of time demonstrating why World War II was not the "good" war. This is important because politicians use World War II to justify every war the United States has prosecuted since then and proposes to prosecute. It is no coincidence that the attempts to rehabilitate the Crusades have intensified since the Global War on Terror and the increasingly open calls for recolonization of Muslim-majority nations.

I'm hoping that authors will follow Swanson's example is his demystification of World War II and similarly demystify hurub al-ridda and al-futuuhaat. I've read Madina to Jerusalem: Encounters with the Byzantine Empire by Ismail Adam Patel, which describes the Muslim military expansion in Southwest Asia into lands formerly ruled by the Byzantines as entirely justified and ethically undertaken.

2. Dr. Madden mentions how the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik quoted him in his manifesto and misunderstood his message. I don't want to study Breivik's manifesto, but I don't think it's a far stretch to see that White Power and Christian Identity movements in Europe and North America often draw on a mythic Tuetonic/Germanic/Scandinavian heroic era for their symbolism. Now this does not mean that Dr. Madden's done anything wrong or that historians should avoid mentioning positive attributes of those actual cultures, but an understanding of our contemporary multicultural societies will be undermined if a mythic pure European "golden age" mythology becomes widespread.

Dr. Madden ends his lecture by talking about the shame contemporary Catholics feel about the Crusades and how knowledge of their noble purpose and the Crusaders' pure motivations would end that shame. I am sure there are many media presentations among Muslims extolling the virtues of certain wars with the aim of enhancing group solidarity. Isn't it time we find another way of explaining to coreligionists why they should be proud of their religion other than extolling war?

P.S. Interesting November 12, 2013 article in Islamophobia Today talks about the marketing of products to USA military and police with anti-Muslim themes.

P.P.S. "The Crusades Were Great, Actually" by Jay Michaelson, February 10, 2015

Updated July 30, 2016: I was browsing my local public library's catalog of digital audio books for download when I noticed a history book written by a Thomas Madden. I thought, "Isn't that the guy I blogged about?" Sure enough, same author. My public library has a lot of free books available for download from this guy. He's not stuck in a basement without influence.

Updated February 19, 2020: Daring to criticise Islamic conquests pre-empts extremist narratives by Ahmad Hafez in The Arab Weekly, February 17, 2020 (archived)
Nashaat Zarraa, a scholar and grand imam at the Egyptian Ministry of Religious Endowments and preacher at a mosque north of Cairo, was recently demoted from his senior status and forbidden from lecturing or giving Friday sermons. He faced a vicious campaign by al-Azhar scholars apparently because he dared critique the history of Islamic conquests.